Israeli ultra-orthodox lawmakers brand incoming PM Bennett as a 'wicked' Reform Jew

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Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, set to become Israel’s first Orthodox prime minister after a confidence vote next week, was accused Tuesday by ultra-Orthodox lawmakers – who back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and aren’t part of the proposed new government – of being a brazen sinner who should “remove his kippah.”

“This is not about separating religion from the state but displacing religion from the state,” Arye Dery, the chairman of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, asserted at a Knesset gathering, which had been called to discuss how to push back against proposed changes to the country’s religious status quo.

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While Bennett is an Orthodox Jew, his coalition will “fulfill the long-standing dream of Meretz, Labor, Reform [Judaism]” and the secularist Yisrael Beiteinu party, he stated, claiming that it would “destroy everything that for 73 years we have maintained together, even in the most difficult times, the Jewish character and identity of the state that allows us to live together. The people of Israel will be forced to return to living as if in exile.”

United Torah Judaism chairman Moshe Gafni called Bennett “wicked” and called on him “to remove his kippah. He shames his kippah and I think it is a great insolence. At least everyone should understand that he is a Reform” Jew.

Their remarks came in the wake of reports regarding the new government’s coalition agreements, support measures to increase secular studies in ultra-orthodox schools and to draft yeshiva students currently exempt from military service.

Coalition members have also voiced support for civil marriage, public transit on Shabbat and the recognition of non-orthodox streams as well as the establishment of a pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall.

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Bennett pushed back against the ultra-orthodox lawmakers’ attacks, calling them “expressions that do not bring them honor and reflect a loss of temper.”

“The ultra-orthodox Knesset members will not teach us what Judaism is and certainly not what Zionism is,” he said, promising that as prime minister, he would “take care of the ultra-Orthodox public and the Torah world.”

“To the ultra-Orthodox citizens of the country I say, again: you have nothing to worry about,” he continued. “On the contrary, the past year has shown that you are the ones who pay, with your very lives, for a political culture of neglect, nepotism and the perpetuation of problems.”

“If the intention in this hysterical outburst is to deter us from the intention to set up a state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster – it will not work,” he said.

Ultra-orthodox lawmakers have strongly opposed the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the Mount Meron tragedy, in which 45 people were crushed to death during the annual pilgrimage to the tomb of the 2nd century Mishnaic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai.

According to the ultra-Orthodox Behadrei Haredim news website, Deputy Transportation Minister Uri Maklev told colleagues at a United Torah Judaism Knesset faction meeting that, if a state commission is established, “there will be people whom we know who are liable to be harmed, people at the Religious Affairs Ministry, people who are responsible for the festivities; there are people who are responsible for Meron.”